Phillip Fulmer backtracks and takes some blame for Tennessee’s downfall

Former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer had a foot-in-mouth moment this past weekend and now he’s trying to backtrack.

Fulmer, who spent the past weekend at SEC’s BeachFest, was asked about the Vols decline since he left the program and instead of talking about his role in Tennessee’s downfall – the role that ultimately led to his firing – he pointed the finger at the administration.

"What happened to us basically was our leadership. We had four presidents in six years,” Fulmer said. “We ended up with an athletic director that wasn't prepared for the job. Not a terrible guy or anything like that. He got twisted like a pretzel by the middle management of the university. We lost a lot of the edges that you have to have. (Current athletic director) Dave Hart's very aware of those, and he's working to change things. We didn't get dumb or lazy all of a sudden. There were obviously some things that were different.

"When you have a great president and a great athletic director and you replace them with substandard people that have no idea, what do you expect is going to happen? And you do that three other times? It's crazy."

By Wednesday, Fulmer, who was in the midst of a press conference about his new role in reviving East Tennessee State, had apparently done some soul-searching (and taken a lesson on PR) and decided to amend his comments when asked - again - about Tennessee.

"I understand it's been a topic of conversation in Knoxville," he said with a tiny smile. "So let me clarify something. I know I was responsible for both the good and the bad because I was the head coach. I know I had responsibility.

"My point was that after President [Joe] Johnson and Coach [Doug] Dickey (UT's athletic director when Fulmer was hired) retired, things were different. And [current UT AD] Dave Hart is still fighting some of those same battles."

OK, so he didn’t take total responsibility, but he tried his best not to be an absolute Negative Nancy on Tennessee’s administration (though that’s exactly what he was thinking). columnist John Adams had a great take on Fulmer’s role on Tennessee’s downfall, a decline that started back in the mid-90s when Fulmer was still the Vols coach.

Maybe UT’s revolving presidential door didn’t benefit the football program. And who could deny that former athletic director Mike Hamilton makes a wonderful target if you’re playing the blame game.

But the man most responsible for the decline of UT football was Fulmer.

The same coach who helped build Tennessee into a national champion in 1998 eventually ran the program into the ground.

“We lost a lot of edges,” he said.

In fact, Fulmer lost his edge.

His recruiting dropped off. His hires weren’t as good. And he couldn’t keep up with the competition when other SEC schools upgraded their coaching.

Of course, Fulmer doesn’t see it that way. He never did.

Adams then goes on to cite multiple coaching missteps made by Fulmer that often cost the Vols crucial games.

Is this why Fulmer has yet to be let back into major college football? Well, it’s probably part of the reason.

Look, there is a lot of blame to go around for one of the nation’s more prominent programs going into the tank in the past decade or so. The administration? Sure. Fulmer? Absolutely. Poor hiring decisions by past AD’s? No doubt. But none of the finger-pointing is going to get the Vols back on track.

The only thing worth talking about now is whether former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones is finally the right guy to get Tennessee back to its winning ways. If not, then we can all go back to using the past as a way to justify Tennessee’s present.

Until then, Fulmer might want to stay in his own lane.

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